U.S. Legislative Immigration Update May 24, 2010

Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in this May 24th, 2010 Legislative Weekly…

  • Mexican President Bashes U.S. Immigration Policy During State Visit
  • Sessions Challenges Leahy Refugee Bill on Terrorism Grounds
  • Obama’s Aunt Granted Asylum
  • Illegal Aliens Face Deportation Following Protest in McCain’s Office
  • ICE Director Declares Agency May Not Cooperate with Arizona

Mexican President Bashes U.S. Immigration Policy During State Visit

Mexican President Felipe Calderon spent much of his recent state visit to Washington, D.C. criticizing his host country’s immigration policies.  Last week’s events included an arrival ceremony on the White House lawn, meetings in the West Wing, a lunch hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and an extravagant state dinner.  Calderon criticized the U.S. for not moving forward on “comprehensive” immigration reform and Arizona’s new immigration law.  President Obama embraced and joined in the criticism by again denouncing the Arizona law. 

The two leaders held a joint press conference from the White House Wednesday, where President Obama again used inflammatory rhetoric to misrepresent the Arizona law.  He stated, “We’re examining any implications, especially for civil rights, because in the United States of America, no law-abiding person, be they an American citizen, a legal immigrant, or a visitor or tourist from Mexico, should ever be subject to suspicion simply because of what they look like.”  (White House Transcript of Joint Press Conference, May 19, 2010).  President Calderon, assailed the Arizona law as “discriminatory,” and said “we will retain our firm rejection to criminalize migration so that people that work and provide things to this nation will be treated as criminals.”  (White House Transcript of Joint Press Conference, May 19, 2010).   

Calderon also spoke before a joint session of Congress, which he used as a platform to once again disparage U.S. immigration policy.  (NPR, May 20, 2010).  In his speech, Calderon acknowledged Mexico’s responsibility for helping secure the border, but nevertheless urged Congress to enact “comprehensive” immigration reform, which he called “crucial to securing our common borders.”  (C-Span Video of Calderon’s Address, May 20, 2010).   Calderon received a standing ovation and applause from Democrats when he again expressed disapproval of the Arizona law: “I strongly disagree with the recently adopted law in Arizona. It is a law that not only ignores a reality that cannot be erased by decree but also introduces a terrible idea – using racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement.”  (Id.).

Many Republicans were not impressed by Calderon’s criticism.  Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.) responded: “It was inappropriate for President Calderon to lecture Americans on our own state and federal laws.  Arizona’s immigration law has been amended to make clear it does not authorize racial profiling by law enforcement.” (Id.). Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) pointed out, “He said he respects our right to pass immigration laws in this country and turned around and criticized Arizona, which gave Eric Holder an opportunity to lead a standing ovation. When he does so, he speaks out against American immigration law – federal law in its entirety, because the Arizona law reflects federal immigration law.” (Id.).

Representative Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) responded to Calderon’s address to Congress by noting that foreign governments should not interfere in domestic American affairs.  In an official release, he said: “I am disappointed that President Calderon did not use this opportunity before us to talk about what more Mexico will do to discourage illegal immigration and improve conditions so that good, hardworking Mexican citizens will want to stay home instead of coming to America. Instead, President Calderon continues to mischaracterize and criticize domestic policies of the United States. It is not right for the president of another country to come here and criticize our nation or our states for wanting to stop human smuggling and drug trafficking, or secure our border.”  (Smith Press Release, May 20, 2010).

Finally, Representative Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) spoke on the House floor following Calderon’s remarks to take strong exception to the speech.  “It is obvious,” he said, “that President Calderon does not understand the nature of America or the purpose of our immigration law.  Unlike Mexico’s immigration law – which is brutally exclusionary – the purpose of America’s law is not to keep people out. It is to assure that as people come to the United States, they do so with the intention of becoming Americans and of raising their children as Americans…. Arizona has not adopted a new immigration law. All it has done is to enforce existing law that President Obama refuses to enforce. It is hardly a radical policy to suggest that if an officer on a routine traffic stop encounters a driver with no driver’s license, no passport, and who doesn’t speak English, that maybe that individual might be here illegally. And to those who say we must reform our immigration laws – I reply that we don’t need to reform them – we need to enforce them. Just as every other government does. Just as Mexico does.”  (C-Span Video, May 20, 2010).

Sessions Challenges Leahy Refugee Bill on Terrorism Grounds

During last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Ranking Member Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) clashed with Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Ver.) regarding his refugee bill. Entitled the “Refugee Protection Act of 2010” (S. 3113), Leahy’s bill seeks to amend the current process that aliens must follow in order to receive asylum or refugee status.

Despite the fact that the U.S. currently admits more refugees annually than all other nations combined, Leahy opened the hearing by charging that U.S. law does not do enough to welcome refugees. Leahy argued his bill was necessary to “restore our Nation as a beacon of hope for those who suffer from persecution around the world.”  (Hearing, May 19, 2010; See also Leahy’s Written Statement, May 19, 2010). In contrast, Sessions said in his opening statement that he was “proud to live in a nation that is so welcoming of those who are facing persecution” and that “we need to be diligent in our analysis of any proposal that seeks to change the law by which people are admitted into the United States.” (Hearing, May 19, 2010).  

Sessions then identified several provisions of Leahy’s bill that he deemed to be “problematic.” These included:

  • Changing the definition of “asylum seeker” to include any alien who simply indicates an intention to apply for asylum, regardless of how long they have been in the country or how frivolous their claim might be (§2(1)(A));
  •  Allowing any alien to apply for asylum at any time after arriving in the United States (current law provides that an alien must apply for asylum within one year of his or her arrival in the United States) (§3(1)); 
  • Granting lawful permanent resident status to refugees upon admission, a dramatic departure from the one year they must currently wait while background checks are completed (§14 (a)(1)(C)); 
  • Dramatically modifying the definitions of those barred from entering the country based on their involvement with terrorist organizations (specifically, by narrowing the definition of a terrorist organization to say that only organizations that have been officially designated by the federal government as terrorist organizations qualify) (§4); and 
  • Eliminating the provision in current law that states that a spouse or child of an individual who has engaged in a terrorist activity is inadmissible. (Id.).

Witnesses in the hearing also expressed serious concern about the terrorism-related provisions. Igor Timofeyev – a former Special Advisor for Refugee and Asylum Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security and a refugee himself – argued that the bill “would unnecessarily restrict the Executive [Branch’s] ability to respond to the rapidly mutating nature of terrorist threats.” Timofeyev noted that the bill would eliminate the ability of federal officials to deny admissibility to individuals who have been involved in undesignated terrorist organizations.  Instead, under the bill, federal officials would only be able to deny admissibility to individuals who were involved with a terrorist organization that had already been designated as such by the federal government. (Hearing, May 19, 2010; See also Timofeyev’s Written Statement, May 19, 2010).

Senator Sessions highlighted the importance of the undesignated terrorist organization bar: “As I understand it, the Pakistani Taliban that attempted to do the bombing in New York was a part of the TTP, [which] was not designated as a terrorist entity. And Senator Schumer has demanded to know why they weren’t, but the government’s not always able to keep up with that.” (Hearing, May 19, 2010).

Timofeyev also acknowledged the concerns that some have expressed – mainly that, under current law, some groups may meet the statutory definition of an undesignated terrorist organization, even though they “engaged in these activities in order to defend themselves against oppressive foreign regimes.” However, as Timofeyev pointed out, current law already provides a means to address this issue: under 8 U.S.C. 1182(d)(3)(B)(i), federal officials may waive the undesignated terrorist organization bar. (Id., Timofeyev’s Written Statement, May 19, 2010).

The legislative prospects for S. 3113 are unclear at this time. Stay tuned to FAIR for the latest on this bill…

Obama’s Aunt Granted Asylum

After protracted litigation, President Obama’s aunt, Kenya native Zeituni Onyango, has been granted asylum. (Associated Press, May 17, 2010). Onyango, the half-sister of Obama’s father, had been in the United States on an overstayed visa since 2000.  (See FAIR’s Legislative Update, February 9, 2010).  

Immigration officials ordered Onyango deported in 2004 after her first asylum request was rejected, but she ignored the order and took up residence in taxpayer-subsidized public housing in Boston. Upon discovery of her illegal status during the 2008 presidential election, more than four years after a judge ordered her to leave the country, she filed a second application for asylum. (Id.).  According to media reports, Ms. Onyango based her second claim for asylum on her health, along with what her lawyers characterized as “political turmoil” in Kenya that prevented her from returning.  (American Visa Bureau, February 5, 2010; Boston Herald, February 4, 2010).  While such generalized claims are insufficient for granting asylum, the exact basis for the court’s decision to grant Onyango asylum has not been made public.  Ms. Onyango could release the information herself, but has stated that she intends to keep it private. (Associated Press, May 17, 2010).

The Onyango case illustrates a major problem with our immigration system: the use of multiple applications for asylum to thwart the enforcement of immigration laws. In addition to calling for the legal basis for granting asylum in the Onyango case to be made public, FAIR President Dan Stein noted: “The legal system cannot permit people who have had their day in court, and lost, the opportunity to keep filing new claims before different judges until they finally prevail. The process needs to be fair and transparent, but endless delays designed to prevent compliance with a deportation order undermines our judicial process and invites abuse.” (Press Release; See also Boston Globe, May 18, 2010).

Illegal Aliens Face Deportation Following Protest in McCain’s Office

Five protestors, including four illegal aliens, dressed in caps and gowns staged a sit-in at Senator John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) Tucson office last week.  This latest move by amnesty proponents was done to demand that McCain support the DREAM Act, legislation that would grant amnesty for certain illegal aliens under the age of 35. (The New York Times, May 17, 2010).  McCain has cosponsored this bill in years past, but this year he has not.  (See S.729).

The activists, who are not students and only one of whom is even an Arizona resident, launched the sit-in around noon, while about 50 supporters chanted and cheered from outside.  Four of the protestors were arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges when they refused to leave the office after closing. Upon their arrest law enforcement learned that that three of protesters are in the country illegally. (Arizona Daily Star, May 18, 2010).  The illegal aliens, 25-year-old Lizbeth Mateo, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 14 and lives in California; Mohammad Abdollahi, a 24-year-old Michigan resident from Iran; and Yahaira Carrillo from Mexico, who now lives in Kansas City, Mo., are expected to face deportation proceedings. (Id.). Tania Unzueta, 26, from Los Angeles, fled the protest in order to avoid arrest.

This incident may be the first time illegal aliens have been placed into deportation proceedings after publicly lobbying Congress to pass the DREAM Act.  The three protestors were placed into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who released them from detention on Tuesday and initiated deportation proceedings. (ABC News, May 19, 2010). Abdollahi stated, “It’s not only Senator McCain we’re looking for and holding accountable, there’s senators across the country we’re holding accountable.  We’re telling them you’ve been asking for a long time for somebody to step up and take leadership on this – none of you have been willing to do so – so as non-citizens, we’ve taken that lead.”  He added, “McCain was supportive of the Dream Act in the past…we saw him as a champion in some ways, and we hope that comes back.” (Id.).

An estimated 65,000 illegal alien students graduate from U.S. high schools every year, according to the Urban Institute.  If passed, the Dream Act would grant amnesty to at least 2 million illegal aliens, according to a 2007 study by the Center for Immigration Studies (note that the bill considered in 2007, S.2205, had a lower age limit of 30).  However, Senator McCain made no commitment regarding whether he would support the DREAM Act after the protest. McCain’s spokeswoman said: “Elections have consequences, and they should focus their efforts on the president and the Democrats that control the agenda in Congress.” (The New York Times, May 17, 2010).

ICE Director Declares Agency May Not Cooperate with Arizona

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton announced that his agency may not process illegal aliens transferred to them by Arizona officials. (Chicago Tribune, May 19, 2010). Morton – the individual charged with the interior enforcement of U.S. immigration laws – criticized Arizona’s new immigration law and said “[t]he best way to reduce illegal immigration is through a comprehensive federal approach, not a patchwork of state laws.” (Id.).

These comments, made by one of the nation’s top Homeland Security officials, set off a firestorm in Washington. In an interview on Fox News, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) charged Homeland Security with doing no more than “nullifying” Arizona’s immigration law before the case ever reached a judge. (Fox News, May 21, 2010). “The only thing you can conclude is that they do not want the legal system to actually work,” Sessions said. When asked whether Morton should keep his job as the Director of ICE, Senator Sessions replied: “If [Morton] cannot enforce the law, he should not have the job.” (Id.).